Before I got a cell phone about five years ago I thought they were an unnecessary waste of time. I would observe men calling their wives from the grocery store asking whether to get whole wheat bread or rye. Teenagers would be gabbing away on their cells giggling about stupid trivial stuff. I vowed that if I ever got a cell phone I wouldn’t use it for such unimportant reasons. Now it’s me making the call from the paint store to ask my wife the color of the wallpaper.
My phone isn’t one of those fancy ones with a color screen or a camera. It doesn’t connect to the Internet and I can’t read emails on it. It doesn’t have fancy special order ringing tones. I use it only for calls, but don’t know what I would do without it.
Soon after getting my cell phone my wife and I went out to a friend’s house on a Saturday evening. We own a bed & breakfast and knew that there was a high probability that a “walk in” guest might show up wanting to rent a room that was vacant. Prior to this we would either stay home hoping we would rent the room or go out and forgo any potential revenue. Armed with my new cell phone I put a note on the front door stating that any potential guests should call my cell and we would immediately come over and show them the room. A couple of hours later the phone rang and I was $100 richer. All of a sudden I started appreciating the cell phone!
With the expansion of our real estate holdings I now use the cell phone constantly to receive calls from all over the world. My cell isn’t just a convenience; it’s a money line. A missed call can cost me quite a few bucks. Furthermore, the cell phone increases productivity immensely, not just for me, but also for millions of Americans. When snags occur in business the “connectivity” of a cell phone makes it more likely that problems can be resolved quickly. The cell phone allows me to hold brief conversations with suppliers and customers that otherwise would have eaten up valuable time in the office. The cell also allows me to spend more time talking to my relatives. Often, when driving home on a lonely I-90 through western Wisconsin, I’ll call my father or brother and talk for an hour or more.
Like everything, cell phones have a “dark side”. Along with television, X box, and I-pods, cell phones allow human beings to escape interacting with one another. Young people, especially, who use all or most of the above items, can virtually hide from the rest of the human race. There is a bus stop across the street from my home. Often I’ll see twenty college students waiting for the bus, most of them on cell phones. More often than not I’ll see two students standing within three feet of each other, completely oblivious to one another as they use their cell phones. I wonder if this new generation, loaded with electronic distractions, has already lost the ability to carry on a conversation with a stranger. If our newest generation loses the art of conversation it will be a shame. Some of the richest moments in my life have been the result of engaging a complete stranger in conversation.
Another disadvantage is mixing cell phones when driving, particularly in urban environments. I don’t know how many times I’ve had to deal with “stupid car tricks” played by drivers more interested in their cell phone than what’s happening on the road. If I get a cell phone call when driving in a city, I’ll usually pull over before answering. I’m not a very good at multi-tasking when it comes to cell phones and driving.
Over my lifetime there are many inventions that I thought I would never use. Among them were; the remote control, the electric can opener, the telephone answering machine, color TV, air conditioning, cruise control, variable speed windshield wipers, the microwave oven, digital cameras, battery operated power tools, the internet, the I-Pod and, of course, the cell phone. Now I can’t imagine life without them.
Sometimes I tell my students at the University that their children will make fun of them when they see pictures of the cell phones they had in college. They will say to their mothers; “How did you manage to carry that big, clunky phone around with you in college Mom? Didn’t you have an ear implant so you could talk to anyone you wanted anytime you wanted?”